In times of insurgency when regimes are in varying stages of collapse, there is
a real risk that unsecured weaponry – including weapons of mass destruction –
will fall into the wrong hands. Militias and insurgents who are more likely to
be ruthless power-seekers than enlightened proponents of human rights exploit
these situation to grab caches of weaponry by the tons.
During the US-led
invasion of Iraq, there was a real fear that in the midst of the anarchy, one of
the militias roaming the country would get its hands on the WMDs thought to be
held clandestinely by Saddam Hussein’s regime. Since US troops and other allied
forces were on the ground there, however, the vast majority of weapons
stockpiled by Iraqi military were destroyed or confiscated.
the allied presence on the ground in Libya was much less pronounced, and the
Obama administration adopted a strategy of “leading from behind” – emphasizing
the importance of enlisting a wide coalition of states over aggressive military
As a result, little could be done to stop militiamen – some
affiliated with al-Qaida – from looting Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi’s
stockpiles of rockets and surface-to-air missiles. In the wake of Hosni
Mubarak’s ouster and the subsequent opening of the border between Egypt and the
Gaza Strip, Islamist terrorists – including Hamas and Islamic Jihad – have
managed to smuggle thousands of these missiles into the Gaza Strip to be used
Now a similar danger exists in Syria. While Bashar Assad
receives support from Iran, al-Qaida has been taking an increasingly prominent
role in the opposition campaign. The longer fighting continues, the more
al-Qaida-affiliated groups entrench themselves and the more Tehran increases its
influence. Under cover of the ongoing anarchy, Syria’s WMDs – in particular, its
biological and chemical weapons – might fall into the hands of extremist
elements. This would have direct ramifications for Israel’s
Nearly any scenario poses dangers for Israel, perhaps not
immediately but in the near future. Whether Assad, backed by Iran, succeeds in
surviving the uprising or, alternatively, slowly loses control and
al-Qaida-affiliated groups gain power, the time is not far off when Israel once
again becomes a target. IDF officials – including OC Northern Command chief Yair
Golan – have noted that either al-Qaida elements or the Syrians or Hezbollah in
Lebanon might be tempted to renew attacks against Israel. He said that the IDF
was preparing for such an option by strengthening positions in the
But the loss of control over weaponry – including WMDs – poses a
threat not just to Israel but to the entire Western world.
there are no easy solutions. A military option in Syria would be complicated for
a number of reasons. Unlike in Libya, the opposition, though growing, is too
weak and divided to forcefully overthrow Assad. Arming the Free Syria Army might
only encourage the Assad regime to do away with the few restraints still imposed
on the armed forces. Imposing a no-fly zone is irrelevant since Assad’s forces
do not need control of the air to rule, and all sides in the conflict are
intertwined in areas with heavy civilian populations, which makes the use of air
strikes to enforce “safe areas” highly impractical. Russia, which maintains in
Syria its only military base outside the former Soviet Union, and China have
consistently opposed military action in the UN Security Council.
result, the US would have a difficult time garnering international support for a
military endeavor that is likely to fail.
Still, there is real danger
that loose weaponry and WMDs might fall into the wrong hands, endangering not
just Israel’s security, but the security and stability of the entire region.
Therefore, alongside sanctions and strenuous diplomatic efforts – such as
additional attempts, backed by China and Russia, to re-enforce a cease-fire
while providing support where possible to the saner elements in the opposition
movement – more efforts need to be made to locate Syria’s WMD caches. If they
cannot be destroyed, they should at the very least be contained. The safety of
many people depends on it.